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A Chinese yuppie in Beijing: Phonological variation and the construction of a new professional identity

  • QING ZHANG (a1)

Recent sociolinguistic studies have given increased attention to the situated practice of members of locally based communities. Linguistic variation examined tends to fall on a continuum between a territorially based “standard” variety and a regional or ethnic vernacular. This article emphasizes the need for sociolinguistics, especially variationist sociolinguistics, to look beyond strictly local contexts and to go beyond treating variation as located along a linear dimension of standard and vernacular. Based on quantitative analysis of four phonological variables among Chinese professionals in foreign and state-owned companies in Beijing, this study demonstrates that professionals in foreign businesses employ linguistic resources from both local and global sources to construct a new cosmopolitan variety of Mandarin, whereas their counterparts in state-owned businesses favor the use of local features. The study shows that variation does not just reflect existing social categories and social change, but is a resource for constructing those categories and participates in social change.This article is based on data collected during my dissertation research on Chinese business professionals, conducted in 1997–1998 in Beijing. The research was funded by several organizations at Stanford University: Graduate Research Opportunity Funds from the School of Humanities and Sciences, a Graduate Dissertation Fellowship from the Institute of Research on Women and Gender, and a Dissertation Grant for the Study of Women in Asia from the Center for East Asian Studies. My special thanks to Penelope Eckert and Keith Walters for their valuable suggestions on various versions of this article. I would also like to thank Miyako Inoue for her insightful comments on my analysis of the linguistic markets in the Chinese context. I am grateful for the valuable suggestions and comments from Jane Hill, editor of Language and Society, and two anonymous reviewers. I would also like to thank Jane McGary, the editorial assistant of LIS, for her editorial support. My research and this article would not have been possible without the Chinese professionals who agreed to share their experiences and time with me during my fieldwork. All remaining errors are my own.

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